Recordings: Arcade Fire – Neon Bible

From the onset of Neon Bible, with the apocalyptic guitar and stealthy drums of “”Black Mirror,”” the Arcade Fire make their new territory clear – a bleak and dogged universe where the mere act of waking up requires some bravery.

The human/machine dynamic of the band’s debut was a headphone junkie’s surround-sound paradise, stacked with catchy hooks aplenty and enough lyrical depth to get at least a few midnight conversations going. In this album, we see a shift: Rather than focusing on the ties that bind, the Arcade Fire branch into a global adventure void of hope. Neon Bible takes the band’s already soaring arrangements, adding everything but bagpipes and kazoos to reach more regal heights, including a full orchestra and even a spontaneous organ solo.

But the album’s problem is that it’s too epic. What made Funeral one of the best albums of 2004 was that it balanced sound: There were peaks and troughs and plateaus, all in paced subtlety. Here, nearly every song hits a point where the band feels it must prove its conviction by playing as loud as every other song, making for a worn effort in which the few songs that do tone it down – notably the title track – are all the more relieving. That’s not to say there aren’t some killer, heart-racing tracks: “”(Antichrist Television Blues)”” finds the band channeling the husky Bruce Springsteen machismo of the late 1970s while “”Keep the Car Running”” is an anthem for anyone who’s ever had to skip town. Neon Bible neither takes the Arcade Fire back into familiar doldrums, nor does it propel them into a new level of epiphany – rather, theirs is a flawed search for identity after success.

3 1/2 Stars